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2l0::0 J'Jl 3 lSi]3 




An Address delivered at Passaic, New Jersey, October 
18. 1901, on the occasion of the unveiling of a Monu- 
ment commemorating the Crossing of the Passaic Eiver 
at Acquackanonk by Washington and his Army, on 
November 21-22. 1776. 

By William Nelson. 


The Paterson History Club. 


Class _£li3A 


Copyright N^. 



/ (^ 

2 1029 JUL 3 1903 



An Address delivered at Passaic, New Jersey, October 
18. 1901, on the occasion of the unveiling of a Monu- 
ment commemorating the Crossing of the Passaic River 
at Acquackanonk by Washington and his Army, on 
November 31-22. 1776. 

By William Nelson. 


The Paterson History Club. 



Two Copies Received 

JUL 3 1903 

^ Ccpyniiht tiitry 

■^JUr . 2 - / q ^ 1- 

CLASS ^<- XXc. No. 

1. h -U U !^ 

Copyright, 1902, by William Nelson. 


The following address is principally extracted and condensed 

from the author's History of Paterson, 

Vol. I., pp. 41I-4I5. 




The Retreat of 'Seventy-six — one of the 
darkest chapters in the annals of the American 
Revolution— has been described ag-ain and 
again, in the pages of the historian, the poet, 
the orator and the novelist. Tom Paine ac- 
companied the army from the Hudson to the 
Delaware, and has given us one of the most 
vivid accounts of the sufferings of the gallant 
little band of heroes. His summing up sounded 
as a bugle-call to the American patriots : 

"These are the times that try men's souls." 

After the battles of Long Island (August 27, 
1776), and White Plains (Oct. 28, 1776), 
Washington concluded that the British were 
planning the invasion of New Jersey, and 
ordered reinforcements to Fort Lee. To pro- 
tect his retreat, and also to check the approach 
of the enemy from the South, Gen. Nathanael 
Greene, commanding at Fort Lee, ordered 
troops to Acquackanonk. "That is an im- 
portant pest," he wrote to Gen. Washington 
on November 9; "I am fortifying it as fast as 
possible." That very day Gen. Mercer marched 

through Acquackanonk to reinforce Gen. 
Greene. It was an historic day for the Httle 
village, as it marked the appearance here of the 
first considerable body of soldiery — the first 
wave of that tide destined to ebb and flow along 
the River Road during the next seven years — 
now the Buff and Blue, now the brilliant Red- 
coats, and now the forbidding Hessians, to say 
nothing of the nondescript desperadoes ever 
ready to prey upon friend or foe. 

Major General the Earl of Stirling crossed 
the Hudson on Nov. lo, to interpose his tried 
and true brigade between New Brunswick and 
Philadelphia, and passed through Acquackan- 
onk probably on the 14th, with eight regiments 
of foot. 

Washington himself arrived at Fort Lee 
three days later. 

The British crossed the North river at Clos- 
ter on the night of the 19th, Gen. Lord Corn- 
wallis landing six or eight thousand men. 

Washington had already ordered the remo- 
val of the stores and munitions of Fort Lee to 
"Acquackanonk Bridge," and other places fur- 
ther South. Gen. Greene now abandoned the 


Fort and much of the stores and ordnance, and 
marched on to Hackensack, six miles distant. 
The army crossed the Hackensack river and 
entered the village that night (Nov. 20), the 
soldiers, many oif them "ragged, some without 
a shoe to their feet, and most of them wrapped 
in their blankets." 

As Washington had been hemmed in be- 
tween the Hudson and the Hackensack, so now 
he was between the Hackensack and the Pas- 
saic, with an overwhelming force opposed to 
him. The next morning he wrote to^ the lag- 
gard Gen. Charles Lee: "As this country is 
almost a dead flatt, we have not an entrenching 
tool, and not above 3,000 men, and they much 
broken and dispirited, not only with our ill suc- 
cess, but the loss of their tents and baggage, I 
must leave a very fine country open to their 
ravages." To the President of Congress he 
wrote from Hackensack the same morning, to 
the same effect. 

Then the long-roll was sounded, and the sor- 
rowful retreat was resumed. On the far side 
of the Hackensack river the British encamp- 
ment was stretched out in martial array, with 

all the insolence of power and the bright pan- 
oply of war. On this side, the little band of 
straggling soldiers, in home-made uniforms or 
in none, tattered and covered with the grime 
of the march, plodding along the frosty road, 
often with bare and bleeding feet. 

It was an anxious march that bitter Novem- 
ber morning. 

Would the Americans reach Acquackanonk 
bridge before the British? Eagerly they hur- 
ried along the lower road from Hackensack, 
passing through the present Lodi, and so on to 
the Passaic where now is Garfield, and along 
the southern bank of the river. • Is the bridge 
still there? And is it in the hsjids of our 
friends? What anxiety was theirs! But 
presently the glad news comes that all is well 
at the Bridge. A great wave of relief passes 
from the head of the column to the rear; fife 
and drum shrill forth a livelier strain, and the 
men stop and wave lustily as the Bridge comes 
in sight. 

This, the first bridge across the Passaic, had 
been erected but ten years before, by special 
act of the Legislature. It was a frail structure. 

of wood, of course, with spans eighteen or 
twenty feet long; the abutments of hewn logs, 
and the piers of timbers or piles partly resting 
in cribs filled with stone, and partly driven into 
the bottom of the river. The width was but 
twelve feet, just enough for one wagon to 
cross at a time, or for four men to march 
abreast. Its location was in the rear of where 
Speer's warehouse now is. Opposite stood the 
quaint old octagon-shaped Dutch church, with 
pyramidal roof, and James Leslie's tavern. A 
sense of relief is manifest in Washington's 
letter to Gov. Livingston of New Jersey, dated 
"Acquackanonk Bridge, 21 November, 1776," 
and written that morning, in which he says: "I 
have this moment arrived at this place with 
General Beall's and General Heard's brigades 
from Maryland and Jersey, and part of Gen- 
eral Ewing's from Pennsylvania. Three other 
regiments, left to guard the passes upon Hack- 
ensack River, and to serve as covering parties, 
are expected up this evening." 

These regiments followed, doubtless cross- 
ing the bridge that same night. Who can paint 
the dramatic spectacle presented in the peace- 


ful hamlet at this thrilling invasion of war's 
alarums, with the great Washington as the 
leader? A Jersey poet once attempted it (in 
1839) in lines that have a martial ring-: 

"Tramp !-Tramp!— Tramp I-Tramp! 
'What flying band with thundering tread 

Along the bridge disordered led. 

With rapid and alarming stamp 
Now hurries o'er the tide? 
Waking the pattering echoes far and wide? 
On — on they oome — tumultuous come! 
With rattling arms and clamoring drum: 

Till all the wooden arches round 

Challenge aloud the intruding sound, 
And clank for clank, and stamp for stamp rebound!' 

"Thus spake a stranger to the crowd 
New- gathered on Passaic's banks, 
Drawn by the din of trampling ranks, 
Resounding far, and loud." 

The Passaic river was a barrier between 
the Americans and the pursuers. Full well 
the patriots knew that the British would 
speedily follow. 

"And if they once may win the bridge" 

what hope to save the retreating army? But 
when has a free country failed of heroes ? When 
Washington called for men to cut down the 
viaduct crossing the river, that the enemy's ad- 
vance might be checked, they were promptly 

forthcoming. It was a perilous task. The 
work once begun must be finished, and 
thoroughly, even though the enemy might fire 
on the destroyers. As in the days of grand 
old Rome, there was a brave Horatius to leap 
gladly forth at the call of his country. John 
H. Post, a native of Acquackanonk, and hence 
familiar with the river and its ways, and with 
the construction of the bridge, was the leader 
in the work. He found many a Spurius Lartius, 
and many a strong Herminius to stand by him. 

"And Fathers mixed with Commons 
Seized hatchet, bar and crow, 
And smote upon the planks above, 
And loosed the props below," 

and presently timber after timber was hurled 
into the river, to be swiftly swept down the 
stream, until nothing was left of the bridge but 
a few of the upright piles, and they partly 
sawed or hewed away. 

When a detachment of the Sixteenth Drag- 
oons, under the British Colonel Harcourt, with 
some companies of Light Infantry, arrived at 
the Passaic river at this place on the afternoon 
of November 22d, they were chagrined to find 
the bridge down, and the Americans, protected 


by the broad river between, impudently "mak- 
ing some show of opposition." 

But Washington was still in danger of being 
overtaken by Ccmwallis, or of being inter- 
cepted at New Brunswick by a British advance 
from New York by way of Perth Amboy. So 
he resolutely pushed on to Newark, where he 
arrived on the morning of November 23d. 

It was the 26th before the leisurely Corn- 
wallis crossed the river, which he was obliged 
to ford, just below the Dundee dam, and fol- 
lowed with his pillaging, plundering, destroy- 
ing hordes, down the Dundee Drive, Lexington 
avenue. Main avenue and the River road, leav- 
ing a trail of desolation behind them. 

"See! in dazzling pomp axivancing, 
Banners flaunting, horses prancing, 
Seas of plumes In billows dancing. 
And far away the frosty bayonets glancing! 
. . Thiey're gone beyond the hills afar: 
Convulsive, faint, no longer shrill, 
Along Passaic's lonely brink 
Swell ithe last clarion-notes of passing war, 
That heave, and sink — 
Heave and sink, 
And all again is still! 

Such is the story — gleaned exclusively from 
original, contemporary sources — of the event 


commemorated by this beautiful tablet you 
have set up on this spot. 

In these days when there is so strong a ten- 
dency to exalt success as the highest aim in 
life, it seems strange to see a tablet in imper- 
ishable bronze erected in memory of a retreal. 

In the mad haste for what the world deems 
success, it is well to pause at times and give 
thought to what is the true victory, and what 
leads to it. 

In the battle of life we often win more from 
our losses than from our gains. 

I read a poem a few years ago, the first line 
of which often rings in my ears : 

"I sing the sons of the vanquished." 

In every battle there are the gallant heroes 
who fall in the ranks or by the wayside, and 
have no part in the glad plaudits that await 
the victors. Within a stone's throw of this 
spot, Washington, in that memorable retreat, 
passed by a humble cottage, the home of a gal- 
lant artillery officer, who six weeks later gave 
up his life for his country, on the battlefield 
of Princeton. Some day, no doubt, you will 
erect a monument to the memory of your fel- 


low-townsman, the only Continental officer 
from this county who was killed in the Rev- 

I have said that your tablet is unusual in that 
it commemorates a retreat. And I have said 
that defeats are often more profitable than vic- 

"Men may rise on stepping-stones 
Of their dead selves to higher things." 

How was it with Washington, as he fled 
through Acquackanonk, before his threatening 
foe? From Newark he sped on the morning 
of November 28th, as the British entered the 
town from the north. He hurried on to New 
Brunswick, to Trenton, and across the Dela- 

Now his army had learned the lesson of the 
vanquished. Before that long march was end- 
ed they had gained confidence in themselves. 
As Tom Paine says : "The sign of fear was not 
seen in our camp." 

Above all, they had learned to know their 
great Chief, and to know Washington was to 
trust him, to reverence him. The more he is 


studied the more worthy of our admiration 
does he seem. 

So when he planned the night attack on 
Trenton, his army was ready to follow him, 
crowded in boats, through the floating ice of 
the Delaware, amid the fearsome fog, and so 
achieved that magnificent capture of the Hes- 
sian garrison at Trenton on the morning after 
Christmas, 1776. And a week later, still prof- 
iting by the lessons of their defeats and their 
weary retreat through the Jerseys, they again 
sent consternation into the ranks of the British, 
and a glow of enthusiasm throughout America, 
by the splendid victory at Princeton. 

And of these glorious triumphs we may hon- 
estly claim that not the least of the chain of 
events leading up to them' was Washington's 
successful retreat across the Passaic river at 


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